Is A College Degree Right For You?

The Dilemma


Is a college degree right for you?

Many people seeking a new career or starting out in the work force for the first time are faced with the prospect of spending several years in school to attain a degree. Because degrees are often considered a prerequisite to apply for roles providing lucrative and meaningful career paths, there can be considerable pressure to pursue a degree.

There are downsides to consider. For some, the prospect of  attending class full time, note taking, study, deadlines, testing, etc.  is not appealing.  For others, the thought of assuming massive debt for an opportunity at an entry level job is less than ideal.  This leaves many looking for an alternative that will allow them to start gaining experience now while also avoiding debt.


What are the alternatives?


One alternative is to pursue a skilled trade.

Much has been made of generational talent shortages affecting the various trades in the years leading up to the pandemic. While government officials and school districts around the country have been slow to recognize this growing problem, celebrities like Mike Rowe  have championed the cause. Drawing attention to the skills deficit with their star power and and attracting talented people to the trades through foundations such as Mike Rowe Works has provided greater visibility to the massive number of opportunities that exist.

Similarly, companies like TradeSTAR advocate for skilled trades by sharing career opportunities at a local and regional level, by supporting local and regional trade organizations, and by providing training and guidance to employees who seek to advance their career.

The challenges brought on by the pandemic have only magnified these glaring talent shortages.  What this means for job seekers is that there are more lucrative career opportunities in an already lucrative corner of the job market than ever before. In many cases, individuals with four years of work experience and on-the-job training can earn as much or more than individuals who have entered the work force with a bachelor’s degree, no work history, and a lot of student debt.


It’s a Freeway Not a Dead End Road


Most trades present career seekers with the opportunity to hone their technical skills and become masters of their craft. They also provide opportunities to move into several white-collar roles within the construction industry such as:

  • Project Management
  • Operations Management
  • Sales
  • Estimation
  • Design
  • Engineering
  • Service Management
  • Executive Leadership

So, these aren’t just dead-end jobs.   Those who choose to stay in the field and become masters of their trade and those who choose to move into a role based in the office both have great earnings potential. Many make high five and six figure incomes after learning their roles.

The best part is a college degree is not required to make a move from the construction site to the office in many cases. This means these opportunities don’t require you to assume loads of debt to take advantage of them.  In fact, many employers in the construction industry will pay for  requirements above and beyond on-the-job experience such as:

  • Formal education
  • Certifications
  • Licensing


How Do Trade Careers Stack Up to Careers That Require a Degree?  


To answer this question, we turned to the most recent numbers published by the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics. We looked at what people earn who pursue and attain four of the more popular four-year degrees.  Then we looked at four popular trade positions that TradeSTAR hires for across Texas. These are roles typically occupied by trade professionals who have invested about four years of time in their field.  Here is what we found:

Popular four-year degrees 


  • Business – Annual Salary 72,250 Growth rate 8%
  • Nursing –Annual Salary 69,870 Growth rate 16%
  • Political Science – Annual Salary 69,760 Growth rate 8%
  • Education – Annual Salary 52,830 Growth rate 6%


Popular Positions TradeSTAR hires for in Texas


  • Journeyman Electrician –Annual Salary 63,000 Industry Growth rate 9% –
  • Fire Alarm Programmer – Annual Salary 63,000 Industry Growth rate 7%
  • Data Center Technician – Annual Salary 70,500  Industry Growth rate 6%
  • Security & Fire Alarm Installers – 63,500 Industry Growth rate 7%

These examples suggest that many positions requiring a degree, and many trade-based positions that don’t, provide opportunities to make similar median annual earnings.  They also have similar growth rates except for nursing. (Nursing has seen a dramatically increased growth rate in the wake of the worldwide COVID 19 response over the past two years).

What is also true of these examples is that they are median earnings. Both degreed and trade professionals in the 51-100th percentiles earn much more than what is shown here.


What does this all mean?


There are a few key takeaways here that will help you determine whether a college degree is right for you.

First and foremost, the popular misconception that choosing to pursue a trade is less lucrative than pursuing a college degree is indeed just that- a misconception.  Both paths can provide the opportunity to make great money and a rewarding career – depending on the field you choose.

Second is that trade workers are already on the job earning respect, responsibility, money, and experience in their chosen field. Those pursuing a college degree are undertaking a full-time class load that can inhibit their ability to:

  • Build relationships.
  • Build reputation.
  • Earn significant real-world experience.
  • Make significant money in their chosen field.

There is a third takeaway and perhaps the most important of the three listed here. The trade professional is not only earning money and experience during their first four years, they are also avoiding debt. The trade professional has been on the job the entire time and being paid for every minute of it.  They can arrive at advanced opportunities free of student debt, with relevant experience, an education, and a paycheck.  Meanwhile, a degreed individual is arriving in the workforce for the first time with very little work experience and a fair amount of debt in many cases.


OK… But Is a College Degree Right for Me?


A college degree could be right for you. If you know you want to be a Doctor, a Lawyer, an Engineer, etc.  then the payoff is there assuming you are willing to put in the time. However, if you aren’t sure what you want to do or you are just getting a degree because everyone says it is the right thing to do, you could be taking on a lot of debt for a degree that really isn’t providing you much advantage or earnings potential.

It might be easier to determine if a degree isn’t right for you than if it is.

There is a good chance that college might not be for you if you:

  • Love working with your hands.
  • Hated attending class and studying in high school
  • Don’t like assuming debt.
  • Want to start earning money and gaining real world experience now.

A college degree is a worthy pursuit… but it isn’t the only worthy pursuit. There are alternatives.

Live Your Best Life


We want everyone to live their best life whether that means attending college or pursuing a trade.

At TradeSTAR, our “best life” involves construction. TradeSTAR serves a niche within the construction industry. We are focused on:

  • Electrical Systems
  • Building Controls
  • Surveillance Systems
  • Life Safety Systems
  • Access Control Systems
  • Voice/Data Networks
  • Other building technologies.

We believe we are involved in the coolest part of construction and we’d love the opportunity to discuss it with you.

We are seeking future leaders of the construction industry. When you’re ready, reach out. We’ll set up a time to discuss whether an opportunity with an Electrical Contractor or Technology Integrator here in Texas is right for you.


We Take Pride In Helping People

If you’re looking for a great new opportunity, please contact us today.

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